This past Shabbos, the world lost a tremendous, beautiful human being in Dr. Tammy Kaplan, as cancer took her away from us. Dr. Kaplan was a giant among men, a bright flame in the darkness, and a source of happiness when joy was difficult to find. She was a brilliant woman, a successful physician, a woman of torah and mitzvos, and a truly incredible mother. I best knew her as the mother to one of my closest friends, Ben Kaplan. For those who know Ben, you will agree with me when I say that he is one of the most incredible, kind, intelligent, and spiritual human beings you will ever come to meet. To raise someone like that, it takes someone truly extraordinary to model after, and Dr. Tammy Kaplan was just that; extraordinary.
I don’t think it was a coincidence that her passing was over Shabbos Hagadol, “The Great Shabbos.” Rashi comments regarding the Jews in Egypt, that they were not very good people. They were on the 49th level of Tumma, impurity, and all they had was their names, their clothes, and their language that distinguished them from the Egyptians. The Sfas Emes explains that the Hagadol, the “Greatness” is referring to the Jews, even though they had almost no merit. By following the instruction to prepare the Korban Pesach, the pascal offering, they matured as a nation, and then became capable of greatness. They decided as a nation that they will surrender themselves to Hashem, they will rid themselves of all of the Egyptian influences, and once they did that, they became truly great.
Dr. Kaplan explained this exact thought to me the last time I spoke to her. I stayed at the Kaplan’s house in Skokie, Illinois this past winter break in December, and we had a very quiet, and humble (except for the food. The food was far from humble. Dr. Kaplan was an EXCEPTIONAL cook) Friday night meal with just me, Ben, and his parents. It was very quiet, that is until the topic of the presidential election was brought up. “I have to ask you, who are you supporting in the race?” I asked innocently. “You’re implying I have to support any of them.” She replied. She continued to explain to me that no matter who was elected into office, nothing will ever change; the Jews are alone. “Dr. Kaplan, you can’t be serious. Pretty much all of the Republicans running right now have a deep and strong support for Israel!” I regretted that statement immediately. What was once a peaceful Shabbos meal was now a heated debate between a hopeful yet naive teenager from Colorado, and a brilliant and experienced woman dying of cancer.
We went back and forth and back and forth about policy, statements made at past debates, proven record, etc. I was making no progress in convincing her why this election was significant. Our argument was going nowhere, until she dealt the final blow to our conversation.
She explained to me, that for thousands of years the Jewish people have been persecuted. Whichever countries we thought we were living in peace with always turned on us. Just 70 years ago was the holocaust. Why would thousands of years of history change, just because of a nomination of a new president? As Jews we don’t rely on our governments for the safety of the holy land of Israel; we rely on Hashem. Our mitzvos, our Torah observance, and our love for our fellow Jew, that is the only way we will ever truly be safe from the persecutions of the world.
This is what made Dr. Tammy Kaplan gadol, great. She, unlike anyone I have ever met before, understood the plight of the Jewish people. We may think we are comfortable, we may think that we are happy, and we may think that we are safe. Dr. Kaplan understood though, that acceptance of Hashem into our hearts as the ultimate power of this world is the true path to salvation.
I know that during the seder, when we are going through Magid, and we reach barad, the plague of hail, I will be thinking of Dr. Kaplan. The plague of hail was miraculous because there was fire centralized within the ice, an obvious contradiction of nature. Even though she was sick with cancer, weary, and cold on the outside like ice, there was still a very strong, bright, burning fire living inside of her. That fire is the same fire that has kept Judaism alive throughout our history. It is our faith in Hashem, the one that Dr. Kaplan held close to her heart, that keeps that fire burning. It is our job to continue to kindle that fire, to keep the Jewish spirit alive, and to ensure that Dr. Tammy Kaplan’s fire continues to burn bright.
Written by Shua Friedman, National Ambassador of Education, Southwest NCSY